Okay, so, a couple of months ago my friend Jeremy offered me a ticket for his vacation to Denmark. Apparently he and his sister were meant to go, but she got really sick and couldn't. Something like that. I was thrilled for the chance for a free European vacation (I'm from Australia and I've never been much further than Bali), especially one he said I wouldn't have to pay for it. So I jumped at the chance.
Anyway, the flight there was pretty quick – five hours maybe? It was freezing cold. In Australia, of course, you don't get much perspective on cold weather – if it drops below 0 here it's national news (Celsius, though if it dropped below 0 Fahrenheit we'd probably all die). Anyway, I didn't get a great first impression of Denmark – the streets were dirty and full of litter, and the people seemed... angry. Sorry, I don't mean to be racist or anything, but they all seemed so stingy and mean. Plus, their samey-ness was creepy – I mean, I know the Nordic countries have a high percentage of blonds, but seeing all those people without one being brunette, or having brown eyes was weird. We didn't meet any fellow tourists either, despite being right outside the airport. We tried asking for directions a couple of times, but most of the time we got brushed off, and a couple of times just yelled at. What I did like about Denmark, though, was the scenery – there were these gorgeous mountains in the background, even if they were kinda obscured by that huge sign saying Vik'ōme ti Kopenhagån.
We got a taxi to a hotel (we eventually bought a map to figure out where it was), and Jeremy paid the hotel about a 100 Euros before we checked in. Anyway, we were meant to be there for three weeks. They went by pretty fast, to be honest. We spent a lot of time looking at various historical sights and such – I can't remember anything specific, sorry. It all seemed... kinda dull. Hence why I forgot everything. It didn't seem to fit together either, like these were random stories from the world; none of it seemed to fit together as from one nation, even if they were apparently crucial events in the country's history. There was no – national character in it, you know?
Anyway. I remember one night, Jeremy and I were watching the news, and they were flying numbers at us. Thirty, forty percent; fifty out of a 1000 people, something like that. I had no idea what any of it was about – my Danish is pretty terrible; to me they all sounded like the Swedish chef – but I managed to recognise one word that sounded like the English. Suicąid.
“Wait, what?” I asked Jeremy, frowning. “Are suicide rates that high in Denmark?”
He shrugged. “Not really. Doesn't it have the highest standard of living in the world? I don't know, it's probably that they're still low, but going up; that's what the news item's about. But they're far from being Lithuania, or South Korea.”
I accepted this, and watched the rest of the news quietly. A few days later, I was lying on my hotel bed when Jeremy came in. He'd obviously been out to some touristy thing, and came back with bags full of souvenirs. When he saw me, he got a weird look on his face. “...What are you doing?”
“Being bored?” I snarked without thinking about it.
That's when he went off. “You – you fucking bitch!” He threw one of his bags at me, and I ducked – he was way off in his aim anyway, as the bag hit the wall and heavy books, snowglobes, a sort of heavy dish all came tumbling out. “I take you all the way to Denmark, without asking you to even pay, and you're bored?”
“I–” I was scared, and confused, and started scrambling off the bed away from him. “Calm down, Jez! I mean, of course I'm grateful – god knows I could never have afforded this myself – but I just said–”
“Shut up!” Terrified, I did. I found he'd backed me into a corner, and I quivered – would he hit me? For being bored? “You don't give a damn about... Fine. Do what you want. I'll be out there, showing some appreciation for another country. Join me if you wish.”
He stormed out, slamming the door as he went. I shivered, trying to collect my thoughts. What the hell just happened? Seemed to be a recurring theme.
He came back that evening, and we didn't talk about it. From that point on, I made more of an effort to join him on his explorations – nothing really stuck, but I was scared of another freakout. I noticed the days got progressively hotter as we stayed. By the day it was time to leave, it was boiling.
“Jeez,” I said as we stepped inside the taxi. “I thought this was meant to be a cold country?”
It was meant to be a joke. Jez and I were doing fine for most of the trip anyway. But when I said that, he gave me a deathly glare. “Well, I'm sorry it doesn't mean your expectations.”
I rolled my eyes again. “It was a joke,” I said. “I'm fine with Denmark.”
“Funny, you've been complaining about it a lot.”
“I have not! You've just gone nuts!”
Suddenly he reached out, and actually did strike me. I recoiled, more from shock than anything – the hit didn't hurt much; I think he just wanted to scare me. Still. I met the driver's eyes in the rearview mirror, to see if he'd just accept something like this going on in his cab.
Okay, this is gonna sound melodramatic, but those eyes – there was something wrong with them. They didn't look like real eyes. The reflections weren't right, and you couldn't see even a hint of a vein in the whites. They looked like glass eyes – not ones they give to someone who's lost an eye, but the kind in expensive dolls, which promptly plunge into the uncanny valley. I looked into the taxi driver's eyes – blue, of course, because everyone's eyes were fucking blue – for a moment, but he ignored what Jeremy did and kept driving. Once we got to the airport, the sun was blazing hotter than I'd ever felt in Australia, and whatever Jeremy said that wasn't right.
The flight home took as long as the one there. I wanted to just get my luggage off the carousel and go, but Jeremy stopped me.
“Where's my money?” he asked.
I frowned. “What money?”
“The money for this holiday? You agreed, you'd pay me after we got back.”
“I – I never said that!” I said. “Your sister paid for this vacation, for both of us; you specifically said it was fine if I took her ticket for free!”
I thought he was going to hit me again. Instead, he chuckled and shook his head.
“Fine. You win. Just go home Izzy; just go.”
A couple of weeks later, I was avoiding Jeremy, while still wondering if I should pay for the holiday just so he wouldn't take a flamethrower to my house. Anyway, I was running late for work and had to grab some spare change for a train ticket, so I got some off the pile I keep on my bookshelf for when I'm running late to work and have to grab some spare change for a train ticket. When I looked at what I'd grabbed, it wasn't Australian money. It was Danish kroner, which I got from my dad when he went there on business once when I was small.
I started remembering things. Denmark doesn't use the Euro, even if it's part of the EU. Danish for “Copenhagen” is actually K'ø'benhavn, the last syllable being pronounced with an “ow” sound like in “house”, I think. I don't think Danish even uses some of the accents we saw on letters. I didn't know about their suicide rates, or litter, or exact percentage of blond-haired blue-eyed people but those all seemed wrong too. Everything seemed wrong. How the hell did we get from here to Europe in five hours? And that transition from hotter than I've ever felt to hotter than I've ever felt over a few weeks would be wrong wherever I was.
Denmark is one of the flattest countries in the world. What was with all the mountains...?